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By Steve Margalit,  FPC

It’s perfectly natural: Many job applicants get flustered and tongue-tied on interviews. Others may be more relaxed, but they still do not know how to convey their value when speaking with a prospective employer. Does this mean they are not the right fit for your company? Hardly. Just because some candidates have difficulty expressing their accomplishments, it does not mean that they are not accomplished.

Good interviewers know the right questions to ask to draw out the best achievements from applicants. They ask probing questions that steer candidates toward the most essential and pertinent parts of their backgrounds. Leaving candidates on their own to provide evidence to support their candidacy does everyone a disservice. You could be letting the perfect match slip through your fingers simply because they were unable to tell their story effectively.

So, what’s an interviewer to do? Follow these tips and you will be able to bring out the best in your candidates, every time.

Setting the Environment

You goal is to create a positive interview experience. Begin by establishing a comfortable environment that puts candidates at ease and fosters open, honest communication. This includes your office layout, the amount of time the candidates wait to be called in, and the demeanor of the interviewer and all other employees that candidates encounter in the process. Remember that applicants are nervous enough even under the best circumstances. Without taking steps to make them feel comfortable, it is unlikely that they will be able to perform at their best.

In addition, by setting a warm and inviting atmosphere for the interview, you are creating a strong first impression and demonstrating that your company has a people-focused culture where employees are respected and appreciated. This first impression will also lead to successful onboarding and pave the way for a positive employee experience and long-term retention.

Asking the Right Questions

Some candidates thrive when asked open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell me about yourself?” and “What are your greatest strengths?” Others have difficulty providing meaningful information about themselves unless they are given more specific and structured questions. If your initial open-ended questions are not producing productive responses, then shift strategies to provide clearer and more direct prompts.

The key is to help the candidate convey their true value. For example, when describing their current role, they may begin describing their responsibilities. But, as recruiters and hiring managers know, responsibilities are not the same as achievements. Interviewers can help candidates provide much more meaningful information through probing questions. Here is an example of leading questions in a hypothetical dialogue that could help to uncover a candidate’s value:

Interviewer: What project did you lead in your current role that you are most proud of? 

Candidate: Well, the company was missing its growth targets, so I led a project that involved a complete audit of the company’s operating processes. We examined all SOPs for each department to identify outdated procedures.

This answered the interviewer’s question, but it is an incomplete and vague response. It provided an action but not a result, and it offered no indication of the candidate’s value. The interviewer needs to probe further.

Interviewer: I see. And what did you uncover?

Candidate: We found that every department had dozens of procedures that were holding us back from growing. 

Interviewer: So, when you found the ineffective procedures, what did you do?

Candidate: I worked with each department head to develop new procedures that aligned with the company’s current directives and goals.

Interviewer: And what did this result in? 

Candidate: Within six months, we were back on track. Our sales grew 6%, ahead of our 3% goal, and we increased our margins by two points.

Bingo. Through a few probing questions, the interviewer was able to get to the bottom of the achievement and identify the candidate’s contribution. If the interviewer had let the initial response stand, she would have completely missed the candidate’s value.

Some candidates interview better than others. But this does not mean that they are better qualified for the positions you are filling. By creating a welcoming environment and encouraging complete answers with probing questions, you can help to level the playing field by bringing out the best in every candidate.

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